Parashat Chol HaMoed Pesach 5784

25 April 2024 – 17 Nisan 5784

Rabbi Richard Jacobi


How Will We Use Our New-Found Freedom?

Any Seder that ends with sung races that are the signature of Echad Mi Yodea and Chad Gadya leaves me in a buoyant mood. This is a nice feeling for those who have symbolically left the enslavement of Egypt to experience the liberation of freedom. The narrow and constricted physical and mental confinement that is represented by Mitzrayim, gives way to the possibilities that are available to us as free people. The big question that confronted the Israelites after the joy of their redemption had subsided, and which confronts us still at this season, is what will we do with the freedom we now have?

It was a truly bitter coincidence for me that the bill to enable deportation of refugees to Rwanda passed into law on Monday night, around the time sedarim were concluding. Is this what we best do with the freedoms we enjoy in the United Kingdom?

By the Hebrew calendar, this Shabbat Chol Ha-moed Pesach (the Sabbath during Pesach) is my father, Rabbi Harry Jacobi’s yahrzeit. I am imagining what it would have been like had a law like this been in place back in 1940, when my Dad reached Liverpool, aboard a larger boat than those available to many current refugees, but every bit as “illegally” as their escapes. Even in the midst of war, the refugees on that boat were granted entry! My father, like his friend and fellow migrant, Lord Alf Dubs, who did all he could to oppose this Bill in the House of Lords, would have been appalled by and ashamed of this legislation,

The core message of the Torah portion for this special Shabbat, from Exodus chapters 33 and 34, is about the repair of the relationship between God and the Israelites following the incident of the golden calf.

It is a portion that reminds us how easily we forget our own past, let alone our people’s past, and go astray from the fundamental teachings about who we are and what is our role in the world. Every year, the Seder reminds us to feel as if we were slaves – to read, to smell, to taste, to hear, to touch what it felt like to be enslaved. Only when we have remembered those sensations can we then renew our appreciation of what it means to be free.

As we approach the Shabbat during Pesach, the Torah portion should remind us that if we forget what we learned at the Seder, we will yet again act as our ancestors did when they pushed Aaron to create the golden calf. I see the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 as one such golden calf, the implementation of which we should oppose as people who remember what it is like to ‘be strangers in the land of Egypt’, and who are the descendants of migrant refugees.

As Pesach continues, as we eat the ‘bread of affliction’ through to next Monday evening, we need to keep strong the memory of what slavery was and is like. We might honour that

memory (and I’d also be honouring my father’s memory) by re-dedicating ourselves to the responsibilities that come with freedom, which include helping others to attain the freedoms that we already enjoy. When we who have been redeemed from slavery help others to achieve redemption too, then we are using our ‘new-found’ freedom to great effect.

Chag Pesach Sameach,

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

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